NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ The Tennessee Titans aren’t looking at their upcoming Monday Night Football clash with the red-hot Bills as some kind of measuring stick to reveal their true level of ability.
“No, I think every week in this league is a huge challenge,” head coach Mike Vrabel said.
For everyone not part of the team, though, this game will be the ultimate measuring stick.
It’s been hard so far in the 2021 season to pinpoint exactly what this Titans team is made of and what they’re capable of, but things should become a lot clearer on Monday because of the Bills’ level of talent.
Throughout Vrabel’s tenure with the team, rollercoaster-like seasons have been somewhat commonplace.
When facing mediocre to bad teams, the Titans have tended to look sluggish, under Vrabel, even when they win those games, though there have been some exceptions. At least once per year, they’re due for an inexplicable loss to an underachiever.
When going toe to toe with the best of the best, Vrabel’s teams rise to the occasion.
That formula, though at least mildly frustrating for fans, can produce good results, such as the Titans’ run to the AFC Championship in 2019.
And, save an embarrassing Week One blowout loss to the Cardinals, that formula has seemingly held up in 2021.
In Weeks Four, the Titans lost in overtime to a then-winless Jets team after sleepwalking for a majority of the game.
Before that, against Seattle in Week Two and Indianapolis in Week Three, the Titans delivered impressive wins. They also beat the Jaguars by three scores on Sunday, though the game got eerily close in the third quarter.
PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
Julio running smooth in his second day back. pic.twitter.com/dEWgVdcMYS
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) October 14, 2021
What’s missing, though, is a signature win against a juggernaut. That’s why the Titans’ performance against Buffalo will be so revealing.
If the Titans beat the Bills or even come very close to doing so, Titans fans can rest easy and know that this team will be just fine and has the potential to make a playoff run.
If the game is a disaster and Tennessee comes up well short of the mark, though, it will confirm what many have feared about the Titans so far in 2021: that they just aren’t very good.
What makes Buffalo a good team to measure the Titans against?
Their performance in the most recent installment of Sunday Night Football, a 38-20 dismantling of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, tells you all you need to know.
Offensively, they’re the NFL’s leader in points per game. That’s not surprising considering how well QB Josh Allen, who’s already getting MVP chatter, is playing.
“He’s playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league,” safety Kevin Byard said.
On defense, the Bills lead the entire league in several categories, including points per game, point differential per game, yards per game, and yards per play.
“They are ranked first for a reason,” Henry said.
“They have a lot of experience from top to bottom. It is a really good defense.”
A competitive performance against a team as special as Buffalo would go a long way toward making the Titans’ clunky, though winning, start to the season a distant memory, especially since there’s reason to believe the team can rise above its early-season inconsistency.
ROOM TO GROW
Tannehill on the #Titans’ offense: “We have a lot of room to grow.”
My translation: We haven’t seen the best of this offense yet, and we should stop judging it like we have. pic.twitter.com/SrLwZZH0qS
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) October 13, 2021
For starters, the Titans’ injury luck so far in 2021 has been brutal. Key players like WR A.J. Brown, WR Julio Jones, OLB Bud Dupree, safety Amani Hooker and LT Taylor Lewan have each sat out at least one game.
Heading into Week Six, though, the Titans’ injury list is getting much shorter, a welcome sight for the team. Jones practiced fully on Thursday, as did Dupree.
“It’s exciting to see a bunch of guys coming back who have made plays for us in the past,” TE Anthony Firkser said.
Another reason to believe the Titans can take at least a few steps forward before the end of 2021 is that the offense hasn’t gotten anywhere close to reaching its full potential.
Stunted by often disastrous pass protection in addition to the aforementioned injuries, the Titans’ offense has been characterized mostly by a lack of cohesion and explosiveness.
RB Derrick Henry, on pace to finish the season with nearly 500 carries, has been the only consistent performer.
But with Jones seemingly set to return, the Titans’ offense could start looking a lot more like the unit that finished the season with the fourth-most points in the NFL in 2020.
His presence alone has the potential to alleviate many of the issues plaguing the offense, which has a lot of room to grow.
“We’re just scratching the surface of where we can be,” TE MyCole Pruitt said. “We have a long way to go, and it’s a long season.”
A win against Buffalo would go a long way toward proving Pruitt and other Titans players who shared similar thoughts to be correct.
If the Titans get blown off the field by Buffalo, though, it will be more than fair to wonder just how much potential this team has.
Cover image: Matt Pendleton & Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today